As my children and I get back into the school routine, I am reminded of how many children are unprepared for their educational careers. Many children enter their first day of school significantly behind the curve and will be forced to play catch-up the rest of their lives. With the traditional family dynamic ever-changing and parents’ time demands at an all-time high, fewer are able to spend time talking, playing and learning with their children. It is now more important than ever that we find ways to ensure our children receive the early education they need to be successful when they enter school.
Neuroscientists report that 90 percent of brain development occurs before a child enters kindergarten. In those first few crucial years of life, children are learning vocabulary, cognitive skills and other tools that shape their future – good or bad. The more time that parents and educators can spend giving them quality attention and interaction, the better developed their brains will become and the more prepared they will be to enter the learning environment. In order for our youngest citizens to get started on the right foot, educators and parents alike must become advocates for the cause.
In Oklahoma, we are fortunate to have some of the highest-quality early childhood programs and partnerships in the nation. Inasmuch Foundation is a proud supporter of education initiatives across the state and helps fund some of our most critical early childhood education programs. Smart Start Central Oklahoma and Tulsa and Oklahoma City Educare centers are all organizations that provide programs and services to help foster early childhood learning and development.
Smart Start Central Oklahoma is a grassroots initiative that supports families as they raise children who are safe, healthy and ready to succeed in school through a variety of programs and services. Early Birds, a Smart Start school-readiness program designed just for parents, helps provide parents with the tools they need to prepare their child for kindergarten.
Additionally, our state houses three Educare centers, with one in the works, making Oklahoma a leader in the field. Here in Oklahoma City, Educare provides 212 at-risk children from birth to five years old with high-quality educational programs in an effort to make certain they are prepared to enter kindergarten ready to succeed.
But it’s not just about early childhood education for at-risk kids; it’s all children being prepared when they enter kindergarten. Educators will tell you that children who begin school behind their peers are likely to stay that way for their entire educational career, leading to an increased dropout risk.
The most exciting aspect of early childhood education is that everyone can play a role in a child’s life. Children are natural-born learners, and it is our job to foster this curiosity. Simple everyday activities such as reading, talking, singing, holding and playing with children can help them develop and learn.
Supporting the early years by investing in quality programs and services is one of the smartest public investments any of us can make. Due to the large number of young children living in poverty, there is great need for these services in Oklahoma. Our children are our future, and making sure they start their educational careers prepared is critical to not only their long-term success, but our state’s future as well.
Bob Ross is president and CEO of Inasmuch Foundation and chairman of Oklahoma City Educare, a year-round early childhood education organization.